Feature Stories

Nuclear Science, Climate Change & Sustainable Development

The fury of the Atlantic was on full display in late summer and early fall as hurricanes lined up to batter the Atlantic coast. Harvey, Irma and Maria knocked out power to millions of people and left communities in ruins. The power of Irma destroyed or damaged almost all the buildings on Barbuda, forcing the entire island to be abandoned. Meanwhile the force of Maria was enough to knock out power to all of Puerto Rico and citizens could be in the dark for months.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recently reported that ocean warming, resulting from climate change could have direct impacts on future hurricanes.

“Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario). This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.”


It’s not just through hurricanes that we see the direct impacts of climate change on human life. Climate change plays a huge role in access to food, water, health and the environment. As such, it is one of the contributing factors affecting sustainable global development. There are other factors to be sure. Together however, they condemn large parts of the world to poverty, underdevelopment, poor health amid a deteriorating environment. So, what to do?


To make life better for both developed and developing countries, the United Nations, in partnership with the global community, set out seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. These goals focus on meeting our needs today without compromising our future.

Thanks to uranium atoms, we can provide the necessary power to help lift people out of energy poverty, provide clean drinking water and help protect the environment, thereby bettering the lives of billions of people around the world. Nuclear science meets NINE of the seventeen sustainable development goals.

2 Zero Hunger:  Using nuclear science to alter the DNA of plants is a proven effective method to make them more resilient to climate change and is in use by 100 countries.

3 Good Health And Well-Being: A nuclear by-product, Cobalt-60, plays an important role in nuclear medicine. Low-grade Cobalt-60 is used to sterilize medical equipment such as syringes and catheters. High-Speed Activity (HSA) or medical-grade Cobalt-60 is widely used to treat cancer patients. Over 70 million people have been treated thanks to nuclear science.

6 Clean Water And Sanitation: Nuclear science using electron beams (e-beams) can break apart chemical bonds. China, the world’s largest textile industry, recently opened-up an e-beam wastewater treatment facility to treat and reuse wastewater used in clothing manufacturing.

7 Affordable And Clean Energy: According to IAEA projections, energy demand will rise by 60-100% by 2030. To help lift people out of poverty and realize the climate goals set out in Paris, low-carbon, cheap energy is needed. According to the Ontario Energy Board, in 2016, nuclear cost just under 7 cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the most cost-effective, clean sources of energy. (Solar costs 48 cents per kilowatt hour and hydro 6 cents.)

9 Industry, Innovation And Infrastructure: Innovation in nuclear technology includes Generation IV reactors, hydrogen fuels, small modular reactors (SMRs) and fusion energy.

13 Climate Action: Globally, nuclear power avoids 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, equal to taking approximately half of all (520 million cars) off the world’s roads. Nuclear power is the largest non-hydro source of low-carbon, clean energy worldwide, providing almost 12% of global electricity production.

14 Life Below Water: Nuclear science techniques that use radioisotopes can diagnose the impacts of ocean acidification on the food chain, giving scientists a better understanding of how rising acidity impacts both ecosystems and marine life.

15 Life On Land: Isotopes are a valuable environmental risk assessment tool as they can identify various contaminants which can help to assist with environmental monitoring and remediation of land areas.

17 Partnerships For The Goals: The global nuclear community has a long list of partnerships including various UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), universities and thank tanks and Indigenous communities.

While violent hurricane seasons are nothing new, the warming of our ocean waters, brought about by climate change, raise the concern that more catastrophic hurricanes, like the ones this season, could be the new normal. It’s just one example that underlines the importance of investments in sustainable science and technology, like nuclear, in order to keep the Earth on course to meet sustainable development goals today, ensuring a successful tomorrow.